A couple of posts ago I wrote about different authors’ processes; what works for some, but not for others. This intriguing interview with Patrick Ryan that recently appeared on the Electric Literature blog gives another perspective.
The advice writers most often hear is that they should ideally be the vessel through which their work passes. In her invaluable 1934 book BECOMING A WRITER, Dorothea Brande described the “creative coma” that we now refer to as being “in the zone”: when the writing is flowing freely, with no self-editing angel looking over your shoulder. It’s AFTER that time that writers should go back over their work with a full editorial eye. That makes a lot of sense, IF you have the ability to write that way. Not all authors do.
About the writing of his short story “The Way She Handles,” part of his new collection THE DREAM LIFE OF ASTRONAUTS, Patrick Ryan says:
The end of “The Way She Handles,” that wasn’t planned. I decided to pull back in order to look at the narrator’s life from a later vantage, and it was thrilling. It was like running on a decline — you realize that the decline is giving you a momentum, and that you’re not entirely in control anymore. I’d never had that experience before. Normally, I’m so controlling. I write so slowly. I rewrite constantly while I write. That’s not a brag — it’s a problem. I write ten words, I take five back. Nearly every writer I know says the point of a first draft is to knock it out, but I can’t. I write a paragraph, and I can’t write the second paragraph until I feel like the first one is in okay shape. It’s not a great way to work. If I have a rare, three-hour session, say, and I write three pages? That’s Olympic. So this was a rare instance where the whole last part of the story came to me in a rush. I looked back on it and thought, how did I get so lucky?
By the time he finished the story, he realized, in fact, that the entire emphasis of it had shifted to another character, and it had found its true heart.
I’ve always admired writers who are able to focus their creative forces, and to bring their inner editor back only when necessary. Often, it’s much easier said than done. If you’re a writer, please feel free to chime in and let me know if you’re one of those lucky ones who can make this system work.